Two pieces of interesting news from Libya

Two interesting stories from the Libyan war make me even more skeptical of the Obama Administration’s competence in handling the issue.

First, the Arab League issued a pretty strongly worded criticism of the UN intervention. Admittedly, the Arab League is in a pretty tough place on this issue. It’s advocating a foreign intervention in an autocratic Arab state to stop its leader from harming his own people, while most of its members are autocratic Arab states who repress their own people. But what the hell? Just 8 days ago the Arab League strongly advocated a UN-enforced no-fly-zone.

Apparently Arab League leaders didn’t understand what a no-fly-zone really meant. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa argued today that, “What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone…And what we want is the protection of civilians and not the shelling of more civilians.” Frankly, this is nonsense. It wasn’t exactly a secret that a no-fly-zone would require coalition forces to target the Libyan air defenses and aircraft. Robert Gates said so incredibly clearly about 10 days before the Arab League endorsed the idea. Maybe they weren’t listening to the American Secretary of Defense as he described a military operation against what was then one of their member states?

The Arab League’s criticism won’t have much practical impact on the mission. Arab states still plan to contribute militarily to the operation. In some ways, it’s more embarrassing for the Arab League than anyone else. Still, it’s not good news to lose the diplomatic support of a highly visible regional organization like that.

Second and perhaps more interesting, Robert Gates said today that the no-fly-zone mandate does not permit the coalition to depose Qaddafi. Most commentators seemed to have assumed that Qaddafi was on his way out now that western powers were involved militarily. David Cameron has also been pretty clear that Qaddafi “needs to go”. So it’s particularly interesting to see the Secretary of Defense saying exactly the opposite.

Not quite sure what signal Gates is trying to send with this statement – surely he must have some goal in making such an important announcement. The Sec Def may be sending a signal to Qaddafi, promising not to depose him if he comes to the negotiating table.

On the other hand, Gates’ message may have been aimed at allied leaders and domestic actors. In this interpretation, the speech was an effort to avoid mission creep by articulating limited objectives to the public and to our allies. Given Gates’ hesitance about the whole operation, this seems like a reasonable reading of his speech.

As I wrote last night, I hope that the United States has the resolve to finish Qaddafi now that we’re involved in the first place. From that standpoint, this speech worries me a bit.

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